Where the Crawdads Sing is much more than your average murder mystery. As the book alternates between two time periods, Delia Owens draws in readers with provoking plot structure and content, making the novel undeniably addicting to read. Alongside the plot, Delia Owens’ gorgeous descriptions of the coastal wetlands in North Carolina make the book an aesthetically engaging read.
Set alternately in the 1950s and 1969, the book’s first time period is centered around the life of Kya Clark, a girl who lives alone in a secluded marsh. Infamously known as “Marsh Girl” in the neighboring town of Barkley Cove, Kya was left by her mother and physically-abusing father. Alone, Kya learns the ways of the marsh, finding friends in the flora and fauna of her surroundings. But she still feels lonely. On missions to secure gas and food, she befriends Jumpin’, an African-American man who owns a gas station off the coast of Barkley Cove. Jumpin’ often slips Kya food and clothes for her survival. Driving her father’s motorboat, she meets her first love, Tate Walker, who brings human interaction and love into Kya’s life. Kya is ecstatic and love-struck, until Tate moves away to college, leaving Kya alone. Broken by loneliness, Kya rebounds in a romance with a former high school football star, Chase Andrews. Taking advantage of Kya, Chase keeps his seemingly dishonorable relationship with the “Marsh Girl” a secret from his entitled peers.
Fast forward two years, and Chase Andrews, the alpha male of Barkley Cove, is found dead on the outskirts of town. As the town riles in disbelief, the town’s sheriff and detective set off to investigate Chase’s killer. In a classic whodunnit format, the law officials divulge clues, gather testimonies, and check alibis, all leading to the arrest and arraignment of one woman: Kya Clark. As the two plotlines converge, the book follows Kya’s criminal proceedings, captivating readers with the intriguing events of the murder case.
The author does a remarkable job of depicting the relationships Kya forms, particularly with Tate Walker and Jumpin’. Kya’s relationships are especially delightful because of the social bubble she had been in for the first ten years of her life. Drawn together by the loss of a mother, Kya and Tate bond over the love of nature. Tate teaches Kya to read, which solidifies their bond. Their relationship unearths simple but beautiful lines of dialogue depicting Kya’s appreciation for writing: “I wadn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.” The author uses Kya and Tate’s relationship to heighten Kya’s oneness with the marsh, now allowing Kya to express and document her experiences through writing and drawing.
Kya’s relationship with Jumpin’ represents a father-daughter relationship, as Jumpin’ assumes the role of Kya’s father figure when Kya was left by her real one. Owens draws on the beauty of a young white girl befriending an older black man. When both Jumpin’ and Kya are seen as outcasts in the eyes of Barkley Cove, the two are drawn together and dually experience life in the 1950s and 1960s. An especially heart-warming moment occurs after Kya gifts Jumpin’ with her first reference guide on marsh life: “And each time she came to his wharf, she saw her book propped up in the tiny window for all to see. As a father would have shown it.”
Another highlight of this book is the stunning descriptions of the marsh. By means of Delia Owens’ own experiences as a wildlife ecologist in Africa, the book truly allows the reader to appreciate outdoor scenery. Even as autumn approaches in the book, the author elegantly illustrates nature as a dynamic and intelligent entity: “Autumn was coming; the evergreens might not have noticed, but the sycamores did. They flashed thousands of golden leaves across slate-gray skies.” Additionally, throughout the book, the author details Kya’s unity with nature, both appreciating and caring for marsh life. Continually Kya is described as “Marsh Girl,” and truly this is an accurate description. Kya is unified with nature, allowing the author to describe her lifelong relationship with her surroundings. Kya’s life is defined by the marsh: “Kya waltzed to the music of katydids and leopard frogs.” Kya’s relationship with nature depicts the meaning of the book: relationships define one’s life. Through Kya’s accord with her surroundings, her life is molded by her experiences in these relationships.
I highly recommend this book. Even if right now people may be stuck in their homes, unable to go out and experience nature, readers can vicariously love nature through this book. Whether or not you currently appreciate your surroundings, readers of this book will develop a gratification for the nature around them, even if you’re unable to experience it yourself. As readers delve into this book, they will be drawn in by the mystery of who murdered Chase Andrews. After reading this book, readers will see their own connection with nature, and will develop a push to protect it.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. Delia Owens. New York City: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. 368 pp.
An excerpt from the beginning of the book is available here.